Is The Lion King Really Just Hamlet With Lions?
For years I’ve been hearing how The Lion King is basically just Hamlet with lions, prompting me to finally ask: Is this correct? Or is it a folly?
To start off with, lets work out who is who. Which characters do what in the story. In no particular order.
Hamlet = Simba. Both are young men trying to avenge their dead fathers.
King Hamlet = Mufasa. Both are the fathers of the protagonists and guide them on their quest.
Claudius = Scar. Killed his brother and ascended to the throne.
Queen Gertrude = Sarabi. The mother of the protagonists that is now with the new king (although Gertrude is more willing than Sarabi).
Timon and Pumba = Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Both characters are comic relief like characters.
Nala = Ophelia. Both are the love interests of the lead characters, although one ends up with a sticky end.
Zazu = Horatio. I don’t know all that much about Horatio, but he is the voice of reason in the play. So make of that what you will.
In fact the only characters that don’t immediately have a correlation are Laertes (Ophelia’s brother who schemes with Claudius to kill Hamlet), Polonius (although the Hyenas fill the evil henchmen role good enough) and Fortinbas (who appears pretty late and could be stretched to fit as Rafiki, but it’s a big stretch). So it’s clear there is a connection between the characters and the play? So is the plot the same?
Well both characters meet the spirit of their dead father telling them to take their place in life. Hamlet has to kill Claudius, Simba has to remove Scar. Both these characters go off to face with their evil uncle whilst there is madness in their mind (Hamlet is unsure if the ghost is real, Simba is filled with guilt). However they eventually managed to use their uncle’s own folly (the poisoned cup/sword in Hamlet, Scar confessing to kill Mufasa) to rise up and defeat him. So on the surface yeah, there does seem to be some similarities between the two stories. But everyone misses the biggest problem with this comparison.
In Hamlet the play starts (more or less) with Hamlet meeting the ghost of his dead father. In The Lion King this doesn’t happen until the movie itself is almost over. In fact one could instead say that The Lion King is a prequel to Hamlet. It shows how we got up to the point that Hamlet finds himself in in Act I Scene IV. It shows how the father died by the hands of his evil brother and how said brother took the throne. Sure The Lion King has Simba running away from his troubles, but the play makes note of how Hamlet is deliberately losing himself within his mourning. It even shows Simba meeting Timon and Pumba, explaining away Hamlet’s friendship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But until Simba sees his fathers in the clouds, the plot has nothing to do with Hamlet. Is there any Shakespearian work if follows closely then?
Strangely enough, the plot it follows much closer is Macbeth, aka the Scottish Play. In it the titular character kills off the King without anyone suspecting a thing, before going mad with despair and eventually being killed by the King’s son. Now doesn’t this strike you as remarkably similar to what happens within The Lion King? Substitute Macbeth for Scar and Macduff for Simba and you’ve almost got a good match. However the best way to describe the Lion King is ‘the characters from Hamlet acting out the story of Macbeth’.
But if The Lion King is like Hamlet, how would it origin in lieu with the original play? Well to start with, when Simba uses Timon and Pumba to distract the hyenas, both these characters die like the original characters (and Simba planned for that to happen). Nala also kills herself at one point by drowning, which leads to a funny moment between two gravedigger clowns. Simba doesn’t fight Scar, but an ally of Scar’s who cheats and poisons him somehow. Sarabi also gets poisoned (either accidentally or deliberately depending how the scene is played out), whilst Simba uses Scar’s ally own poison weapon back at him. He then poisons Scars before dying himself. So in short every single character (bar a few side ones) die. The End.
So there you have it. A look at if Hamlet really did inspired The Lion King. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.